I shivered involuntarily as I felt Edward's cold body press down on mine for one last kiss, one last moment of perfect togetherness before he left me. He had spent hours last night reassuring me over and over again, to the point that even I was sick of myself. My need to hear that he would return to me was overwhelming. I had told myself when we had returned from Italy that in order for us to move on I would have to put him leaving in the past and move on, but my own advice had been caught in the back of my throat ever since. Edward, patient as ever didn't seem to mind though, he just smiled lovingly at me and swore again and again that he could never leave me; not again.
As his hard lips stole their last kiss from me I breathed in his beautiful sweet scent. I stretched out my whole body as he pulled away, groaning in pleasure as my muscles stretched after a night without use. I looked to see Edward smiling at me, watching me, loving me. How on earth this God of a man had come to be mine I still couldn't fathom. From his beauty and his grace to his gentlemanly nature he was perfection personified and quite often I had to pinch myself to remind myself that he was real. Today it seemed was just such a day.
"My love, I will be back with you before the sun sets tomorrow night"
I grimaced at his words. I found any separation from Edward difficult, no matter how short a period of time it would be. His black eyes confirmed for me that he had been stretching his control to its very limits to accommodate my need for his presence. The least I could do was send him on his way with a smile
"And I will be counting the minutes and waiting right here for you"
My words seemed to please him as he swept forward, too fast for my slow human reactions to see and caught me in a breathtaking last kiss. I was still reeling when I heard the distinctive sound of Emmett's Jeep roar to life from the garage below. Looking up I frowned to see that not only had I been too slow to catch the kiss but to see my love leave also. Sighing I dressed for the day, picking out casual black yoga pants and a form fitting black short sleeved hooded top to accompany them, at least with Alice being gone too I could wear something more appropriate than dresses and heels to lounge around in.
As I made my way through the scrambled eggs and toast I had prepared myself for breakfast I considered possibilities to keep me entertained for the day. It had been over a year since I had moved in with the Cullen's after Charlie had been killed in a car wreck and having graduated from school several months prior my days had thus far been filled with Cullen's to entertain me. This weekend would be different though. Edward, Alice, Rose, Emmett and Jasper had all gone on an extended hunting trip, while Esme and Carlisle were attending some fundraiser at the hospital. Having finished breakfast I wandered out to the back porch and sat on the swing. It had been so long since I had to occupy myself that I was at a complete loss for what to do.
Tiring of my own thoughts I headed back into the house and up to the library, running my fingers along the spines I tried to decide what to read lingering unconsciously on a Jack London classic; Jacob. It had been months since I had last seen him primarily due to the fact that Edward absolutely despised any time I spent down in La Push. Running back through the house I knew I would have to be quick, having now made the decision it wouldn't be long until Alice would be able to see my future disappear as it was known to do around the Wolves. It was one thing to visit Jacob on a whim but something else entirely to go if Edward called and asked me not to.
I jumped in my old Chevy truck remembering when Rose had declared that it was a true vintage classic and instead of destroying it as Edward had intended she had taken it on as her own pet project. As far as I could tell she had replaced everything but the shell and there were even days I wondered about that. My old truck now ran like a dream; no longer stuck at 50 miles per hour I swiftly made my way to La Push in a record 15 minutes.
Pulling up in Jacobs drive I felt the nerves begin to trickle down into my stomach. Jake and I had been such good friends, best friends when Edward had left me with the possibility of more still heavy in the air when Edward had suddenly returned. I couldn't deny that I had allowed Edward to come between our friendship since. I hopped out of the truck and made my way slowly to Jake's front door. There had been a time when I would have barged right in like one of the family but I hesitated and decided to knock, not quite sure how Jake would react to my impromptu appearance.
I knocked again a couple minutes later when no one had answered. This time though I could hear the irate voice of Billy Black, Jacob's father from behind the door
"Alright, whoever you are, I'm coming, I'm coming"
I smiled to myself thinking about Billy's temper, he was quick to grumble but Billy was a sweetheart deep down, he just liked you to think he was mean. When the door pulled back to reveal me standing there Billy didn't bother to hide the surprise from his face
"Isabella Swan, Jacob didn't mention you would be coming over"
I looked down at my feet and scuffed the tow of my shoe back and forth in the dirt making a little trail
"Uhh, well the thing is Billy, I didn't tell Jake, I just wanted to see if he was home, if not I can come back later or something"
My nerves were getting the best of me, quite simply I just wanted to turn and run, to forget that I had come here, Jacob probably didn't want to see me ever again anyway
"No kiddo come on in. He's should be back any minute now"
I didn't want to sit inside and wait, I would probably wear holes in the carpet with my nervous fidgeting or something
"Billy, if you don't mind I'm gonna head to the beach, can you tell Jake that's where I am"
"Sure kid. Hey and Bells, don't leave it so long next time"
The last thing I saw of Billy was his friendly smile as he closed the door. I couldn't begin to understand the complexities of the relationships between the wolves and the vampires but I respected them none the less. Billy came from a black and white era, there was very little room for shades of grey and the Cullen's for him should be the enemy, plain and simple. Living with them, being in love with one of them should have automatically have put me in the enemy category but Billy had somehow been willing to see beyond that for me. I knew he didn't like it, but he had never let me really feel his disapproval.
Feeling the earth begin to sink in underneath my feet I knew without looking that I had reached the beach. I bent down and took off my sneakers and socks and felt the cool grains of sand give underneath my toes. I made my way down the beach and just as I came to the waters edge I rolled up my pant legs. I had always loved the feel of the water pulling the sand away from under my toes as it retreated back into the ocean. After a few minutes I felt the water warm as the temperature in my feet cooled to meet its own. I was swept away in the hypnotism of the ocean when I almost collapsed under the force of someone knocking me from the side
"You haven't heard a word I've said have you"
I looked up after regaining my balance to see my former best friend Jacob Black staring down at my with amusement written clear across his face. His appearance still managed to surprise me, his once boyish frame and face had been left long behind, leaving muscles and maturity in their place.
"Bells. First you show up out of the blue, now you're mute or something, just say something, you're scaring me"
Shaking my head I tried to clear away my rambling thoughts
"So, tell me how did you escape his clutches?"
"They're hunting out of state"
"So he doesn't know you're here"
I shook my head. I wasn't sure if this would annoy Jake or not. While Edward didn't like me visiting the Wolves I knew my absence from Jacob's life was mainly my fault as I hadn't fought very strongly for my best friend.
I could see the disappointment on his face but it quickly gave way to a bright smile
"Can't say I'm not upset that it's taken you so long Bells, but there's nothing I can do about that now is there"
I smiled as Jacob wrapped his massive arm around my shoulder and filled me with his warmth. We strolled around the beach for hours talking about things that had happened during each others absence. While nothing of huge importance had occurred in the months we had been apart it was the small things that made me sad that I had let our friendship go so easily. Quil had imprinted on a girl named Claire who was barely old enough to count. Leah and Seth and another guy had joined the pack putting the numbers now at eight. Jake meanwhile had been working on a new car, fixing it up.
The sun was just beginning to get lower in the sky when Jacob looked at his watch for the third time in ten minutes
"Jacob, if you have somewhere to be I understand"
"It's not that Bells, we're having a bonfire out here tonight and I promised I would pick up some stuff. I was just trying to figure out how long I could push it before I had to go"
"Jake, would you like some company?"
A big smile lit up Jacob's entire face at my words
"Excellent. Let's go"
Jake threw my on his back and loped back to his house, seeing my truck he let out a low whistle
"Let me guess, Barbie Leech?"
I nodded, I had learned long ago to let the nicknames go. Leech, bloodsucker, dogs, pups, mutts and so forth, it didn't matter how many times I stood up for one or the other, the names continued unabated.
I threw Jake the keys as he made his way around the truck fingering the paintwork in admiration. Even I could see that Rose had done an absolutely stellar job. I pulled myself in on the passenger side to see Jake rubbing his hand across the steering wheel taking in the whole new interior
"I gotta hand it to her, that leech knows her stuff"
I smiled, even if it had been hidden within an insult, Jacob Black had just complimented a Cullen. I began to picture what Rose would say when I told her. The drive back into town was decidedly shorter with Jake at the wheel who insisted that speed limits were only a guideline. At the grocery store we quickly filled up three whole carts with bonfire supplies. Feeding eight werewolves for the night was a costly expenditure it seemed. We drove back into the La Push limits as the sun set on the horizon. La Push always seemed so magical to me at night, where the legends of the tribe were told behind the blue flames of the salted driftwood. I was lost in my memories of the first bonfire I had been to with Jacob when I felt my body being pulled into the cold night air.
"What is with you today Bells, you keep going somewhere on me"
"Just memories Jake, that's all"
"So you're not thinking about your leech then?"
Jacob was looking at me with complete skepticism on his face, clearly not believing me. I laughed as I told him the truth
"No Jacob, I was actually thinking about the first bonfire I came to with you. When the Elders told all those tribe legends"
"Well it won't be like that tonight Bells, no elders, just the pack and some friends"
I nodded as we wound our way back down to the beach again our arms laden down with bags. Well in honesty Jake's arms were laden down, he had left me only two to carry and had smirked when I had grimaced at their weight.
As we came through the trees I felt the familiar sinking underneath my feet announcing our arrival. I walked carefully behind Jacob as we drew closer and closer to the fire that had been lit. Finally reaching the fire I helped Jake as we arranged the contents of our bags on a crudely composed table made from driftwood and sheet of plywood, happy for something to do I snuck glances to see who was in attendance. I smiled in relief to see that as of yet only Sam and Emily had shown.
"Bella, Jake didn't tell us you would be coming tonight"
I smiled up at Sam as his huge frame drew closer to me. All of the Quileute boys were massive in size, just being in their presence could make your neck hurt. Sam's expression was clear as he glanced with trepidation between Jake and I. Of course being the Alpha of the pack he had a perfect right to be nervous of my presence. I was after all the leech lover.
"Hey Sam, Emily"
I waved in Emily's direction seeing her making her way to us with red plastic cups in hand
I smiled hesitantly and thanked Emily as I took one of the cups from her.
"Isabella Swan, what would your leech say"
I rolled my eyes at Jake but he was right. Edward would have a fit if he saw me now, drinking beer with a couple of immature pups as he would put it. This was what I liked about Jake and his friends though, they were all just so normal. It wasn't like hanging around with Edward or the Cullens, where the atmosphere could never be this relaxed.
"Jacob, a word"
I walked away as Sam and Jake began to talk too low for my ears to register and sat close to the fire against one of the pieces of driftwood that had been arranged to form a circle. I sipped the fizzy beer from my cup and enjoyed the cool distinctive taste on my tongue. I felt a warm body sit next to me but was surprised when I looked up to see Sam and not Jake sitting next to me
"So, Bella, how've you been?"
Sam and I had found ourselves in a strange almost friendship since he had found me the night that Edward had left me alone in the forest. I could quite honestly say that no-one had seen me as low as Sam had and somehow I felt tied to him because of it. But I knew that my absence and whatever pain it had caused Jacob would make him wary of me now.
"I'm good Sam"
We both stared at the fire in front of us the silence between us almost palpable. Sam obviously wanted to say something to me but was holding back. I looked up to see him staring at me his eyes drawn in some internal debate
"What is it Sam?"
Having come to some decision Sam took his eyes from mine and spoke into the fire
"Bella, I know I never said this. But when Charlie, well when Charlie died, I hope you realize that you had other options. Anyone of us would have welcomed you in with open arms"
I turned around and saw that Jake and Emily were lost in conversation oblivious to what Sam had just said to me. When Charlie had died so suddenly I had moved in with the Cullen's without any real thought. I hadn't even considered that other options might have existed.
"Thank you Sam. I appreciate what you're saying but I'm happy with the Cullens, truly."
"I know that Bella. I just want you to know that you still have family here, regardless of the decisions you've made"
Apparently feeling that everything that had needed to had been said had been Sam stood and walked back to Emily, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind as she continued whatever her and Jake were discussing. I knew not to take Sam's words lightly, while I knew that my heart belonged to the Cullens, I would always have a place set aside for my Wolf family. I was glad to know that they still had a spot for me, my choices withstanding.
As I listened to the crackle of the fire intermingle with the roar of the ocean I lost myself thinking back to when I had first heard that Charlie had been killed. It wasn't long after Edward had come back to me fearing the worst when one of Alice's visions had hinted at my death. While Charlie had never understood how I could go back to Edward after he had caused me so much pain he had accepted my choices as my own and I was glad that was still alive to see me happy again. I had only returned to my childhood home once after the accident; Esme and Alice propping me up from either side as some sort of cathartic exercise that had failed abysmally. I knew that Esme kept the place clean in hopes that I would decide to return and face my past but it had been over a year and I had still yet to find the courage.
A nudge to the side threw me out of my own thoughts and back to the present
"Jesus, Bells what was it this time? If you don't cut it out I'm going to start thinking you're going crazy"
I looked up to see Jake looking at me with a smirk on his face
"Sorry Jake, I don't know what's wrong with me today, something about being here is bringing up all these memories"
I noticed then that as I looked around the bonfire was now surrounded by people and not all of them I knew. I felt my cheeks flush slightly wondering how many other people had seen me lose myself in the fire.
"C'mon lets get you a refill"
I pulled myself up and walked with Jake to a keg that I hadn't noticed before behind the makeshift table. As Jake filled our cups I looked around to see who I did and didn't know.
Paul, big and brash as ever was flirting with two girls I couldn't remember ever seeing before over by the bonfire. Emily and Sam didn't seem to have moved from earlier except now they were deep in conversation with someone. The stranger was tanned just like Jacob and all his friends, with his face turned away from me all I could see was his dark hair tousled and messy reminding me for a brief moment of Edward. I jumped as Jake put the cold cup into my hand.
"That's Jared, he moved back up to La Push a few months ago"
"Is he one of the pack?"
I looked up at Jacob who was still watching the conversation between who I now knew was Jared, Sam and Emily
"Yeah, he started phasing almost right out the plane"
I moved with Jacob back the fire taking small sips of my drink as I went, not really ever drinking I was beginning to feel a light tingling sensation which I was sure could be attributed to the beer I had consumed without even realizing it. Great I thought, another thing Jake and the pack could tease me about, knowing their size they could probably drink all day and feel nothing, but me, well of course I have to be a lightweight.
I listened as Jake, Embry and Quil talked animatedly about something that they had seen while out on patrol the other day but I couldn't concentrate on their words. My eyes kept stealing glances at Leah who was watching Sam and Emily with a tell tale glisten in her eyes. I knew a little about their story from Jacob but it was heartbreaking to think how difficult it must be to watch your love with his arms around another girl. I wanted to move and sit next to her and offer my support but I had never spoken to Leah, her reputation wasn't exactly one of bunnies and pink bows and I didn't want to risk her wrath falling on me.
I stood anyway wanting some space from the onset of so many people. I walked back down to the edge of the beach as I had earlier and sat listening to the waves crash lit only by the crescent moonlight.
"Hey Bella, do you mind if I join you. The pack are all talking about old patrols and its gets a little tiring after the hundreth time"
I patted the sand next to me, indicating to Emily that I would be happy for her to join me.
"I'm glad you came Bella, Jacob has missed you a lot"
"I've missed him too. Emily do you ever wish it that none of this had happened?"
"What do you mean Bella?"
I looked around us throwing my arms out to emphasize my point as I spoke
"This, everything, Wolves, Vampires, Treaties"
When she didn't speak again I turned to look at her. Emily had been affected so thoroughly by the onset of the wolves both internally and externally that I couldn't even begin to understand her. Her eyes now cast directly down on her fingers that were fidgeting with the laces on her sneakers. Her voice was barely above a whisper when she finally spoke
"It's different for me Bella, I don't know where I would be without this. I mean Sam would probably still be with Leah and as much as I hate how much pain we caused her I don't think I can say that I wish it hadn't happened"
"But don't you think it would have happened anyway"
We were now sitting so close together our voices were only a whisper above the roar of the ocean.
"No, I think if we had met under other circumstances it would have been sordid, no one would have been able to see past Leah and I being related, but it wasn't like that at all Bella. It was beyond us, like a force of nature, unstoppable. Now let's go before they get any ideas and throw us in the water"
We both stood at the same time and walked back to the group, Emily making a beeline for Sam who was laughing loudly at something the others had said. I remained on the outskirts and watched the group from the edge of the light. I felt rather than saw someone approach me from the right
I looked up to see the owner of the voice and my words caught in my throat. Jared the stranger from earlier was standing barely feet from me
I looked from his outstretched hand back up to his face, up close he was undeniably beautiful. His face a construction of hard clean lines, a strong jaw led up to sharp cheekbones which only drew me in closer to his shockingly light grey eyes. The firelight danced across the plains of his face and I stood there gazing at the man in front of me without words.
"Sorry, she's been doing this all day. Bells!"
I heard Jacob next to me but still my eyes remained glued to the strangers face who was now smiling at me. I tried to think of the words to say but the only things that came out my head was umm.I looked up at Jacob for help. With my eyes pleading he laughed at my expression
"Jared, this is Bella Swan"
I nodded at Jake's word. Yes that was right, Bella. I shook my head trying to regain some focus. Seeing Jared still holding his hand outstretched I took it in mine, hoping that he wouldn't be able to think of me entirely insane if I could manage this simple feat.
I watched as his hand engulfed my own with its size, his warmth seeped right through my skin and I felt like my entire body had risen a few degrees in temperature with this brief touch. Hearing Jacob laugh at my side I was aware that I needed to let Jared's hand go, but as I watched his hand didn't leave mine either, instead his thumb drew one small circle on my wrist and then released me back to the chill of the night air.
I needed to get away. I looked up to see Jake looking at me with his eyes drawn in confusion
"Jake I'm hungry"
I plastered a big smile on my face and was pleased to see that Jake didn't read too much into it. Instead he threw his big arm over my small shoulders and led me away to the table. I could hear him throw out names of food at me but my concentration was shot. Instead I thrust my plastic cup at him only to be met with a guffaw
"Ok Bells, but if the bloodsucker asks this was all you"
I nodded as he filled up my cup again with beer. Happy to have something to do with my hands I held it tightly with both. I watched distractedly as Jake threw endless amounts of food on two plates and then thrust one at me. For the next hour I sat silently next to Jake, occasionally chancing glances around the group. All in all no one seemed to be paying me much attention, besides Emily who every time our eyes met offered me the softest of smiles.
Feeling the strange tensions from earlier slip away from me I stood and walked away from the group. The stories had inevitably made their way around to the Cullens and other Vampires the pack had encountered. Feeling uneasy with the conversation I walked down to the edge of the beach but feeling too cold to stop and sit I walked along the edge of the water line.
"Do you mind if I walk with you?"
I turned around to see Jared walking slowly to me from behind. Not wanting to be rude I nodded and he fell instep beside me. I watched as our feet moved in synchronization with one another.
"I've heard a lot about you"
"What have you heard?"
I wanted to stop, to see his face when he answered but I didn't, I kept my feet moving and my eyes trained down
"That you live with the Cullens"
I didn't say anything, I simply waited for the next words which were inevitable
"That you're engaged to one of them"
We had reached the rocks at the end of the beach. I turned to look back the way we had walked and saw the bonfire in the distance the sounds of echoing laughter cut through the air. I didn't move to walk back though, instead I looked up to see Jared staring at me. His eyes asking me a question that he had yet to bring alive in the night air
"Is it true?"
I nodded, not trusting my voice for some reason
"Do you love him?"
I opened my mouth to tell him just how much I loved Edward, to make him understand, but I couldn't. Looking up into his eyes I couldn't speak the words that until five seconds ago I had known in my gut to be completely infallible.
Jared was looking back at me with intensity in his eyes and in that moment everything that I had known, believed, fought and lived for was not longer a certainty to me. I couldn't answer his question because I no longer knew.
My head dipped slightly to one side inquisitively, who was this man standing in front of me his beautiful eyes piercing into my soul. Why was he making me question my entire world, my future, my Edward. Not being able to hand the intensity anymore I pulled my eyes from his and walked away. I walked straight back into Jacob's arms and while his warmth relaxed my tense frame I longed for the cold hard feel of my Edward. I needed him to push my fears away, but I knew I would have to wait.
"Jacob, will you take me home?"
I looked into his eyes to see the concern looking back at me.
"I can't Bells, you know I can't go on Cullen land"
I considered my options for a moment. I had been drinking and couldn't even fathom the idea of getting behind the wheel of a car knowing what Charlie would think of the idea.
"Can I stay with you then?"
"Of course you can Bells"
"Do you mind if I head back now?"
Jacob didn't let me go alone though, he kept his arm tightly wound around me as he led me back through the trees to his home. After a twenty minute argument over who would sleep where Jake won. Not long after my head hit the pillows on his bed and Jake's snores began from the floor beside me did I drift into a dreamless uneasy sleep.